the surf is most definitely up
Love of the surf is one thing; living to surf quite another. Anyone who’s journeyed to Ditch Plains this summer has gotten to see the distinction firsthand: There, on the once-lonely Montauk beach, it has been possible to observe the re-emergence of surfing as a mainstream pastime as each weekend, more and more freshly minted longboarders paddle into the lineup. And many of the new surf aficionados making pilgrimages to Montauk or Malibu or Maui are members of the fashion flock. This was the year the surf vacation finally and incontrovertibly ate fashion. What gives? “I think surfing is very simpatico with what’s going on in fashion right now,” posits Julie Gilhart, fashion director of Barneys New York and a relatively recent convert to the sport. “There’s a longing for authenticity, and surfing has a very real—and very stylish—heritage.” As the co-owner of new Ditch Plains hotel Surf Lodge, Jayma Cardosa has been able to observe surfing’s “thingness” at close range, and according to her, fashion and surfing make natural partners. Both, she notes, are cultures that communicate to the outside world through iconic imagery. “There it is on celluloid,” she says. “Exotic locations, good-looking people. Surf film and surf photography have played a huge part in making the culture of surfing resonate, even to a kid in Kansas, say, who’s never laid eyes on the ocean.” Meanwhile, some of the die-hards are grumbling. As we wave goodbye to summer ’08, Style.com talked to two die-hards—Trovata designer John Whitledge, and the company’s ex-pro surfer marketing manager, Jon Rose—to get their tips on making the scene.
Surfing is an elemental thing for both of you, and it has been for a long time. John, I know that one reason you’ve headquartered Trovata in Newport Beach is because you want to stay close to the water. And you—other Jon—used to be a Quiksilver pro. How do you feel, seeing surfing turn into this trend?
JW: Well, first of all, I think it’s worth pointing out that surfing was huge all through the eighties. And then it went on hiatus for some reason, and became more of a cult phenomenon. So, you could argue that this isn’t a trend—it’s actually a return to normal. Personally, I don’t really see the trendiness of it, because it’s so much a part of my life, but then I go to New York and hear people talk about surf trips they’ve taken, and it occurs to me that, yeah, something’s up.
Jon, you’re making a face.
JR: Well, I think there’s a good side and a bad side to surfing being more popular. The good side is, I love surfing, and I’m glad other people love it, and maybe a critical mass of people who love surfing means that certain beaches get preserved. The bad side is, a lot of these new surfers, they went to wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am surf camps, and they don’t have a sense of the etiquette. They cut the lineup, steal waves, get in other surfers’ way…
I was talking to Julie Gilhart about this, and she was saying—basic rule of thumb, don’t be a lame ass.
JW: That is pretty basic. And not exclusive to surfing, I might add.
Her larger point was that it’s just as possible to be a surf victim as a fashion victim.
JW: Definitely true. I mean, it can be kind of a drag to see people who have just jumped on a bandwagon taking ownership of surfing, claiming it. It’s like, hey—pay some dues! And I don’t just say that because I’ve been at it awhile and I resent the idea that new surfers are horning in. I think paying the dues makes you respectful. You become more aware of the etiquette, like Jon was saying.
Let’s say I’m brand-new to surfing. How do I get some cred?
JR: Know your board. If you’re brand-new, you’re on a longboard, but most people wind up surfing a short board, and that’s the one to invest in. You can get a decent board at any surf shop, pretty much, but for real cred, you go to a shaper. Like, there’s a guy who’s got a shop a couple blocks from the Trovata store in Newport—Cordell Surfboards—and if you bought your board from him, that’s a pretty good sign you’re serious.
JW: A good clue that someone’s a surf amateur is if they’re using the wrong wax. Warmer water, harder wax. If you’re surfing Montauk, or going out really early in the season here in California, you want a soft wax.
JR: And for the love of god, never say “hang ten.”
But what if you’ve actually managed to hang ten toes over the end of the board? How else would you describe that trick?
JR: Well, in that case, go ahead and say it. Another thing to note—skaters do tricks, surfers “maneuver.”
What do you think accounts for popularity of surfing lately?
JW: Man, I have no idea. Maybe it’s something as simple as, now there’s Surfline, you can go on the Internet and monitor the waves anywhere in the world, which makes the whole thing more accessible to people. Or maybe it’s even simpler than that—I mean, not to be cheesy, but surfing is spiritual, in a way; it’s a head cleanser. You can have the worst day ever and go out and surf a few waves, and feel awesome. And really, who doesn’t want to feel awesome?